Reclaiming Time from Technology

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I began a partial news fast last week.

I don’t watch the news, and I don’t read a newspaper daily… but I had fallen into checking the news on multiple sites and selectively reading articles at least a couple times each day. It’s another way of procrastinating, I think, inspired by the smartphone and its promise of passing any unfilled time painlessly. But it also creates unnecessary tension, and the fact is, I can’t do anything about most of the things happening in the world or even my country.

The breakneck speed of technology has enabled instant information about everything, everywhere. In some cases, such as an approaching tornado, this is life-saving. But most of the time, it’s not that essential. Whichever side of the political divide you favor, odds are any news source delivers jolts of anger or fear throughout the day. In taking a news fast, I am choosing to limit these reactions.

Because this is a partial fast, I am staying informed, by reading a non-sensational world news source no more than once daily.  I plan to use some of the time I save to write my legislators issues that are important to me, an activity that, for most of the past 15 years has fallen into the category of “I wish I had time for…”

I recently read Cal Newport’s new book, Digital Minimalism. I found the thoughts in his earlier book Deep Work to be very useful, and have been looking forward to harvesting tips toward reducing digital time since I heard of the title of his latest work.

Newport proposes a 30-day digital declutter to break away from the strong pull of technology and rediscover how we used to or how we want to spend our time. After this period, during which unnecessary technology is eliminated, components can be added back… mindfully.

He suggests that, prior to this declutter, goals and priorities are planned so that the lack of technology is less of a black hole. He recommends a clean break – not slowly stopping the technology train, but jumping away from all nonessential use.

Prior to reading this, I found my own slow approach to digital decluttering. I began by removing all potentially time-wasting apps from my phone, and proceeded by unfollowing almost everything on my social media feed, which led to largely abandoning social media. It is a great relief to not have to react internally or externally to all of the minutia, vacations, news, and vents shared there. The pull of the phone remains, though: like one of the individuals cited in Digital Minimalism, I have found myself reading the weather for lack of something else to swipe on the phone – which reminds me that it’s time to put it away.

I don’t call myself a minimalist in any regard, but I appreciate the mindfulness afforded by a little bit of space in my time. Making it more difficult to waste time on the pocket computer that we all call phones has brought more of that space into every day.

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